For years I kept journals -- in composition, spiral bound, and French graph paper books. This blog is an attempt to get back to writing and documenting the world around me using photos, newspaper headlines, and other articles.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Family Narrative

Last week as I drove across Route 4 on my way home from the Ashram, I thought about the brave women in my family.  Listening to Mom talk about Nana and how she made her way to America all by herself and telling the story of Grammy Louise packing up her car and driving to the East coast by herself after Grampy Marion died started my musing.  Grammy Bev took flying lessons in the 1930's and was in one of of the first planes to deliver air mail to the San Jose airport.  Later in life, when her husband was losing his mind to dementia and becoming abusive, a nurse told Grammy to have a bag packed and a planned escape route so that if she had to get out of the house, she would know where to go.  Excuse me?  A woman in her 70's or early 80's was having to figure out which neighbor she could go to and call 911 -- wrong.  She left her beautiful home and the marriage.

Then there is Mom -- packing up her house and two children and moving across country to marry a man she knew for 3 months; leaving her own extended family and the warm climate behind.  Gutsy doesn't begin to describe the courage that move took.  I've always thought that my Mom is the wisest  women that I know.  The older I get, the clearer it is to me that if I can be half as wise, patient, understanding, brave, compassionate, and spiritually open as she is, then I will be lucky.

The blog from last week prompted lots of conversation about a family narrative.  Susan Shannon sent me the link to this article from the New York Times, and Heather brought it up with her this weekend also.  So last night before I left, we were talking about the adjectives or themes that could be our family thread.

I had been thinking of brave and seeking.  Heather had thought about service.  One of her favorite family stories is the love expressed in service of Grampy Marion polishing Grammy Louise's nursing shoes every night.  Living at the Ashram and also teaching at the school is all about seva.  Sant Ji said that he appreciated the seva of the teachers.  They don't do it for money or financial gain.  It is a service to the students and their families.  And when Sant Ji was alive, the Ashram hosted retreats for the followers and all of us pitched in to help run the events.  After retiring, Dad has gone full steam ahead in service to others -- be it working with prisoners in non-violent communications, or tutoring in math to students from the church.

I had thought about seeking in terms of adventure, searching out a new and better life, and spiritually.  The Culvers left England in the 1600's and settled in Vermont.  Nana came over from Ireland in 1901 and her husband in 1903.  From Denmark, Al Stevenson (Dad's grandfather) jumped ship in Galveston when he was young.  And Nedim did the same in 1987 after leaving his family in Istanbul at the age of 16.  Our family hadn't stayed in one area within the US either.  Our family immediate and distant have crisscrossed this country.  We have not been afraid to pick up stakes and begin life in a new location.

And as I was driving home last night, I also added land stewards to my list.  Grampy Merrill farmed the Irvine Ranch before anybody else.  They he moved up to Salinas and grew fruit trees.  If I remember correctly, Uncle Art had tracts of land in the Salinas and Imperial Valley.  At the turn of the 20th Century, Al and Lulu Stevenson ran a "hotel" and gave tours of the Petrified Forest before it became a National Park in 1906.  Dad had the guestbook as a family heirloom and gave it to the Park in 1994.

Grampy Marion in Arizona

Petrified Forrest, circa 1899 

1904 entry in the "guest book"

On a smaller, more intimate scale, most of our families have had gardens and taken great pleasure in tending plots, small and large.  One of the first weekends after we bought our house, Mom and Robert came over and helped us start our garden.  Garden speak is always threaded through our family conversations, "How are your tomato plants coming along?" or "We made pesto tonight from our garden basil." and "I dug, raked, and planted so much today that I had to take a bath and take 3 Advil so that I could stand up straight tonight.  I'm just like our mother!"

I can't think of enjoying "nature" without thinking of Ed Schongalla.  All six of the Schongalla siblings learned so much from their father about camping, outdoor life, scouting, gardening and the importance of taking care of the environment.  I think of his canoe lessons, the ability to recognize an imminent thunderstorm, and long walks at Greenwich Point Beach.  Selim is so fortunate that Robert loves to take him out in the woods for walks.  They track animal prints in the snow; look for trees that porcupines have stripped of bark; check the stream flow in the summer; find where deer have bedded down for the night; and bird watch, timing the birds with a stopwatch to measure how long it takes a bird to land on the tree by the feeder, hop to the feeder, take a seed, fly away and return for another.

I think Selim will come to understand that comes from an extended family of hard workers. His Buyuk Baba, Nedim's father would go to Germany and work for nine months at a time, returning home for the summer holiday.  What to speak of his anne, who was left behind with four children in a two bedroom apartment in the city to raise while her husband was away.  Nedim starting working at age 10 and by 15 he was a welder on cargo ships and would make repairs while the ship was between stops.  I work hard.  My parents and step-parents gave me the example of providing for one's family through effort, diligence and perseverance.  I hope that in the stories we tell that we are able to demonstrate that work isn't always "hard" and doesn't have to be a chore, but that it can be intellectually stimulating, challenging, fun and full of camaraderie.  And there is an element of service in many career choices.

I'll have to be more conscious of how we tie our family stories into a narrative that can sustain him in times of difficulty.  For we are a family of hard workers, seekers of adventure as well as God, brave souls who do their best, and try to be of service to others.  And we love each other and can be counted on to be supportive when time is tough.  I think that is a pretty good legacy to leave a child.

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